Mercury’s retrograde through Aquarius, which begins on January 21st, defines the end of January and the first half of February.
The planet Mercury is named for the Roman god of language, travel, commerce and trickery, and is often represented clutching the snake-embraced staff and wearing the winged shoes of the god. Patron of travelers, Mercury helped conduct human beings from place to place, and as the lord of commerce, to conduct coin from one purse to another.
This god also had a dark side- one often used to describe the action of the planet in its retrograde phase. Mercury was prone to play tricks on gods and men- not all of them harmless. He was also a thief, prone to steal both cell phones and good judgment. Mercury, and Hermes before him, also played another important role- that of the psychopomp, or the guide of souls. Unfettered, Mercury moves freely between heavens and hells, guiding travelers along those most secret paths. The journey to the underworld is the one most parallel to Mercury’s retrograde phase, as the period of backward movement entails a literal disappearance of the planet from visibility- the traveler gone once again to those places that none shall glimpse.
Ironically, it is retrograde Mercury’s close proximity to the Sun (from our point of view) that creates his invisibility. All things at an extreme generate their opposites. In this case it is the Sun’s great brilliance which, instead of enabling sight of Mercury, makes it impossible.
These stories and figures are useful, for they encode a cluster of the planet’s essential actions. Yet we are limited if we listen to only one set of stories. Another volume of tales was told in ancient Egypt, where Hermes was strongly associated with, even synchretized with, the god Thoth.
While Mercury is a tricky, fast and playful, Ibis-Headed Thoth shines a light on the thoughtful, elegant, and scholarly side of
the planet. Yet this is not the Ibis-Head Thoth whose image resembles the coming weeks, but Thoth’s alternate depiction- a baboon. While it would be difficult to find a more stately creature than the ibis, the baboon is a loud, aggressive and generally rude creature. Although the ancient Egyptians were said to revere the baboon, it is impossible to ignore its cacophonous hostility.
Yet it is through the figure of the baboon that we unlock a window on to this particular Mercury retrograde. The vista opens onto the shadow of rational Mercury in logical Aquarius. Not science but superstition here, the howl of shrieking monkeys drowning out the dry logic of the professorial lecturer. This wave of alogos brings with it a certain amount of chaos, but with chaos comes freedom. The strictures of language drop away from the voice, leaving only primal utterances of pain, delight and intent. The names of gods long-forgotten endure in half-ruined manuscripts, stripped of meaning but still full of power. Barbarous languages are created and forgotten in the moment, never to be spoken again. The breath of creation temporarily unbound from the logos leaves shocking patterns of condensation on the window-pane of the mind’s eye.
These barbarous proto-words are somewhere inside you, waiting to be muttered or howled into the vast spaces outside the small cube of logic you’ve cobbled together. Unmoored, drift for a bit in that starry void, immersed in the subtle wavelengths of deep inner space.
Perhaps it is time to forget.
Perhaps it is time to go wandering.
At least for a bit.